Monday, January 10, 2011

Ko Samui, Thailand

Map picture

And Yet Another Island; Ko Samui, Thailand

The truth of the matter is quite simple; if I dedicated my remaining years to visiting all of the inhabited islands in the world, it would be physically impossible. According to a quick Google search, there are over 11,000 islands that are inhabited. Plus, not to put too fine a line on it, but in my opinion, just about every island pretty much looks like every other island. There are exceptions, e.g. Bora Bora, but otherwise I think my observation is pretty much correct.

And so yesterday we visited the island of Ko Samui, Thailand. Until we booked this trip, I had never even heard of the place, and in fact, before arriving into port, I had to go look it up, and it was not easy to find. It is located about half way up into the Gulf of Thailand. Directly to the west is the Malay Peninsula, and directly west of that is the small island of Phuket, which we visited about a year ago. What was interesting was the fact that Ko Samui is so small that it does not have the vehicles to accommodate a cruise ship. So all of the buses and tour guides that met us dockside had driven that morning from Phuket and taken the ferry over to Ko Samui.

If you drove non-stop, it would take about an hour to go all around the island’s one main road. The center of the island is undeveloped mountainous terrain. Historically the island was a giant coconut plantation, until during the 1970’s the backpacking crowd discovered the wonderful beaches on the island. Overtime the island has mushroomed with upscale bungalow type resorts on every available beach. However, they are discreetly nestled behind the foliage so the natural beauty remains largely unspoiled.

We joined a ship sponsored tour which made the circular drive around the island, with four stops along the way. Our first such stop was to visit a coconut plantation.


What was most interesting was the way in which the ripe coconut is harvested – they use specially trained macaw monkeys. While a person can climb the trees which can be over 100 ft. tall, they take time and require wages. On the other hand, a monkey can effortlessly run up the tree, select the ripe coconut, drop it to the ground, and be back in a flash.


Unlike people, they do not require wages. We got to watch a monkey at work, and it was impressive. Afterwards a baby was brought over so that we could have our pictures taken with the monkey on our shoulders. It was funny that when the little monkey sat on the shoulder of a woman, he was calm and cute. On the other hand, I happened to be the first man to give it a try, and the little “darling” went “ape,” if you will pardon the pun, and I ended up with several scratches that were bleeding.


In just minutes the mosquitos had located my bloody arm, and I had visions of dying from some rare disease. Since I am still doing well today I guess my fear was unfounded, but every time a man came forward, the same behavior ensued from the darling little monkey.

Our next stop was for refreshments at a beautiful overlook, and afterwards we continued our drive.


Without question the main tourist attraction of the island, besides its beaches, is the Temple of The Big Buddha. Constructed by a wealthy Thai in the 1970’s, it is today mainly used as a tourist attraction and not as a place of worship.


I managed to get some good photographs, before our bus pulled out for the short drive to a real temple, the Plai Laem Temple. By this time of the day, the sun was starting to really heat the landscape. The heat combined with the humidity meant that all of us were sweat soaked pretty quickly every time we left the cool bus, but the beauty of the temple grounds was worth the effort.



From the Temple, it took almost 30 minutes for our bus to complete the island drive and drop us back at the dock, where our shuttle tender was waiting to take us back to the Ocean Princess. Because the waters were so shallow, the ship had to anchor some distance off shore, and the tender ride probably took at least 35 minutes. Interestingly, for the entire time that our ship was at anchor, two police boats were quietly anchored nearby. One boat was pretty big, with guns on the outer decks, and the other was a high speed boat meant to do a quick intercept. I think that because of the recent unrest in Thailand, the country is doing all it can to insure that there is no event involving tourists, because damage to the tourism industry could be devastating to the country overall. Our guide did mention that the “unrest” was mainly confined to the north of the country and was the result of their King getting on in years. This was producing some concern that certain groups might try to take advantage of his death to introduce a new form of government.

Yesterday was the first day in our entire voyage that we had sunny skies and fair seas. Overnight the ship made a calm trip to the port of Laem Chabang, one of many container ports that give access to the city of Bangkok. Once again the day has dawned bright and sunny with calm winds. Unfortunately, from our perspective, the port is located so far from the city that just to travel there and back would require a drive of 5 hours. While we always enjoy the sights of Bangkok, having been there many times, the thought of a 5 hour drive caused us to elect to remain on the ship. The ship does offer a complimentary shuttle, which itself takes around an hour to a local beach resort where for a small fee you can spend the day sunning. Since that is not our thing either, we are instead enjoying a day at leisure on an almost empty ship. Sadly, we are so far out of town that we do not have cell coverage, and the ship has closed down the internet for maintenance. I guess we best rest up for lunch and dinner, and be glad we are not at home where I heard you are expecting 5 inches of snow.

I hope you are enjoying my updates. When we again get internet, I will post this as a blog and also upload the pictures from yesterday.




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